Downing Street Acknowledges ‘Existential’ Risk Of AI

The issue and risks associated with artificial intelligence (AI) is being addressed at the very highest levels of the UK government.

On Wednesday Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met the CEOs of OpenAI, Google DeepMind, and Anthropic to discuss joint action to ensure the development of safe and responsible Artificial Intelligence, and how to establish the right approach to governance for the next technological frontier.

The meeting comes amid growing concern around the world at the arrival of AI and its potential risks, and threats to thousands of jobs.

AI meeting at Number 10.
Image Credit: Downing Street

Downing Street meeting

According to Downing Street, the PM made clear that AI is the defining technology of our time, with the potential to positively transform humanity.

But the success of this technology is founded on having the right guardrails in place, so that the public can have confidence that AI is used in a safe and responsible way. The PM set out how the approach to AI regulation will need to keep pace with the fast-moving advances in this technology.

In March the UK government had set out its plan to regulate the artificial intelligence (AI) sector and proposed five principles to guide its use via its “adaptable” AI plan.

Then last month the UK government also announced a taskforce (Foundation Model Taskforce) with an initial £100 million in funding to develop artificial intelligence (AI) foundation models.

Now according to Downing Street, the “PM and CEOs discussed the risks of the technology, ranging from disinformation and national security, to existential threats. They discussed safety measures, voluntary actions that labs are considering to manage the risks, and the possible avenues for international collaboration on AI safety and regulation.”

It is the first time that the Prime Minister has publicly acknowledged the potential “existential” threat of developing a “superintelligent” AI without appropriate safeguards.

The UK Government has previously adopted a generally positive attitude to AI development.

The CEOs agreed to work with the UK Government to ensure the UK’s approach responds to the speed of innovations in this technology both in the UK and around the globe.

The CEOs also agreed to work closely with the Foundation Model Taskforce to deliver this. The Taskforce will advance approaches to AI safety which will inform international approaches.

The PM and CEOs also committed to work together to ensure society benefits from such transformation.

Regulation needed

OpenAI’s CEO Sam Altman, who attended the Downing Street meeting, had earlier this month testified before the US Congress, where he called for more AI regulation.

Image credit: Sam Altman

Indeed, Altman this week has also called for world leaders to establish an international body similar to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which regulates atomic weapons, in order to limit the speed at which such AI is developed.

US politicians, including President Joe Biden, have indicated they are planning rules for AI, but are also wary of stifling domestic innovation at the expense of limiting the ability of western firms to compete with China.

This month EU lawmakers agreed tough rules over the use of AI, including restrictions on ChatGPT-style chatbots.

Public trust

Meanwhile Sridhar Iyengar, managing director for business tool provider Zoho Europe welcomed the meeting between the Prime Minister and leading AI CEOs.

“It is positive to see UK leaders in both government and AI come together to discuss the future of this technology,” said Iyengar. “Artificial Intelligence offers huge potential; however, regulation to ensure the ethical use of AI will help to garner public trust.”

“AI has the potential to supercharge business growth if implemented in the right way,” Iyengar added. “Businesses are starting to reap the rewards it provides in various business tools such as customer service assistants, fraud detection, data analysis, forecasting and many more.”

“For many organisations it is a way of keeping up with rising customer expectation, revolutionising the way we serve and respond to consumers through offerings such as AI-powered chatbots that can help to automate tedious tasks and give almost instant customer responses to basic enquiries,” said Iyengar.

“As AI developments continue to emerge at a rapid pace, businesses must remain vigilant and monitor progressions in this area to apply AI in the right way as government and AI leaders collaborate to create a safe playing field for the further development and adoption of this technology,” Iyengar concluded.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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